Examining potential District 97 cuts: BRAVO and CAST performing arts programs

'The integration of the arts, sciences and languages is key'

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By Terry Dean

Staff reporter

EDITOR'S NOTE: If Dist. 97's April 5 referendum fails, officials say drastic cuts will have to be made to fill its budget deficit. In the upcoming weeks leading up to the vote, Wednesday Journal will look at some of the programs on the reduction list. In this issue, BRAVO and CAST.

Bill McGlynn has created a lot of memories through Oak Park District 97's CAST performing arts program.

He's been director of the Julian Middle School program since 1997 but was also a student performer when he was kid growing up in Oak Park.

It was in the 1985-1986 school year when McGlynn was a student at Hawthorne School — now Julian, 416 S. Ridgeland — and participated in a class play. CAST, as a full-fledged district program, didn't exist yet. Some parents and teachers helped put on the play. The two parents ended up founding what would become CAST, which is celebrating its 25th year in the district this year. BRAVO at Brooks Middle School, 325 S. Kenilworth, was created in 1995 at then-Emerson School.

Both programs have grown to involve more than 200 kids as stage performers, set designers and stage hands, among other activities at each school, putting on productions throughout the school year. The program also invites professionals to instruct and even perform in stage productions.

With a degree in middle school education and theater arts, McGlynn said it was his involvement onstage that sparked his interest in performing arts, becoming an actor and writer before moving into education.

CAST and BRAVO are being celebrated in the district by those with and without kids in the schools. So many were undoubtedly concerned when both programs appeared on the list of reductions the board of education approved last week for elimination in case voters reject the April 5 referendum.

McGlynn shares the view held by others about these various programs — that all are important to the district. But McGlynn and supporters of CAST and BRAVO insist that both programs are central to the overall curriculum, not just performing arts add-ons. That was the intention as both programs grew over the years, he recalled. When he returned to Oak Park to take over as program director in '97, CAST was fully entrenched in the curriculum and has remained so.

He and other CAST staff regularly meet with core subject teachers. Though some productions are planned well in advance, some plays come out of those teacher discussions. McGlynn recalled a discussion about the Lorraine Hansberry play A Raisin in the Sun that students were reading in class. CAST ended up performing
the play. The classroom impact also extends to such courses as math and science.

The set designers, McGlynn explained, often use what they learned in math class to figure out dimensions in set pieces.

"These connections are made across the curriculum," he said. "That's really part of the middle-school approach in Oak Park. The integration of the arts, sciences and languages is key. It requires a strong relationship between teachers and co-curriculars."

District administration has tentatively talked about how each program can survive, perhaps with volunteers. Officials, though, have admitted it wouldn't be the exact same programs.

McGlynn and other art program supporters argue that the programs are self-sustaining. The district provides some funds for support staff but the shows themselves, along with parent-led fundraisers, pay for the program. Both have parent advisory boards — the CAST Council at Julian and Parent Advisory Board at Brooks.

Parents from both schools spoke on behalf of their programs at the Jan. 11 Dist. 97 school board meeting. The board at that meeting approved the $5.7 million in cuts. They echoed many of the points McGlynn made in speaking with Wednesday Journal late last week.

"It would be a tremendous loss," he said.

As for outsourcing for volunteers, McGlynn doubts how successful that would be. Though McGlynn didn't want to speak for that BRAVO, he believes that to maintain both programs, some kind of corporate sponsor might be needed. Parents could be asked to try and raise money to pay for a director or permanent staff person, but McGlynn said that's really outside the bounds of the middle schools. Shifting expenses to other taxing bodies might also be problematic, given the financial strain on those budgets, he added.

Then there are the summer camps that both programs run and what would happen to those?

McGlynn said he's not thinking about what will happen if the referendum fails — he'll deal with whatever happens at that time. Instead, he and other supporters will work to make sure it does pass. That, he insisted, will involve convincing other voters to support it.

"It feels like a duty of ours to keep it," he said. "Our intention is to use our energy to make the argument that we need to keep it here, and not thinking about anything else."

Reader Comments

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NO on REFERENDUM from Oak Park  

Posted: February 16th, 2011 5:11 AM

D97 is just following the age old script: when you need more money, threaten to cut the arts. It's a red herring. D97 needs to show creativity, fiscal responsibility and long term accountability in its budgeting. But their current plan currently fails to do so. At the end of the day, no one really wants to see programs like CAST and BRAVO cut as they enrich those students who participate. And that is just what D97 is counting on....

Isaac Murtha from Oak Park  

Posted: February 15th, 2011 9:05 PM

I'm in OPRF now, but I did CAST when I went to Julian. It allowed the scared, shy, 6th grader that I was to have a place where I had friends and excelled. Neither would have happened if I did not do CAST. So to those of you who say that CAST is worthless, take a look at what it has done, not just for me but for many others like me. See the plays, and ask the actors what the program has done for them. You can go this weekend. I'll be there on saturday. But trust me- they're on my side.

chet21 from Oak Park  

Posted: January 25th, 2011 11:10 AM

DJ, my point is that if the RF kids can excel at OPRF without an elementary school Spanish program - that this would suggest that the OP program has little/no academic value. Therefore, it is a program which can be eliminated. Why do YOU think otherwise? I noticed that you did not support the multi-cultural dept. We need a community debate on D97 and this will ONLY occur if the ref is defeated. What's going on with D97 salary freeze proposal from D97 board?


Posted: January 24th, 2011 8:12 PM

Should be across the line cuts, as well as pay freeze for two years. Very common practice in private sector - why is this not happening in public sector. Why - it is the UNIONS threatening, we will walk out. Yet there is an OVERSUPPLY of qualified teachers on the Street - that cannot find work. Seems like a supply demand issue. Why not let the free market work?

kpost from Oak Park  

Posted: January 24th, 2011 4:37 PM

Since 2000 health care costs have outpaced inflation and employees have increasingly been asked to pay more. Our last teacher contract again provides for 100% of employee health and dental coverage. This was agreed to amidst spiraling heath care costs. Of Forbes Best 100 companies to work for only 15% pick up entire health costs. Health care costs need to be shared. It appears the average health care premium is 12,000. I'm not getting any step raise. My care goes up I pay, OP goes up I pay


Posted: January 24th, 2011 4:26 PM

Under the currently proposed referendum, the property taxes on a half-million dollar house would increase by about $350. A 10% pay cut for teachers would be somewhere between $6,000 and $10,000 per teacher. So you want teachers to take that kind of paycut so you can save $350? Hmmm. When will residents stand up and say we can spare that money to maintain the quality of our kids' education?


Posted: January 24th, 2011 11:42 AM

When will the teacher's union stand up and say - "we know times are hard, we don't want to cut programs or increase taxes. We believe students come first. We agree to a 10% pay cut until the economy bounces back." This would fly in the face of the current formula: Unions > Teachers > Programs > Students > Taxpayers.

hm from oak park  

Posted: January 24th, 2011 10:43 AM

Timmy, where do you get $5.7 million for theater and wood shop? If you look at the info on the d97 website, you will see that the 5.7 million is total for all the cuts, including eliminating summer school, instrumental music, athletics, foreign language, art....the list goes one. That isn't reducing, it's ELIMINATING. The list of proposed cuts starts on page 11... http://www.op97.org/Recommended_Reductions12_14_10.pdf


Posted: January 24th, 2011 10:06 AM

$5.7 for theatre and wood shop at a Junior High level? I'm not doubting the benefits but the cost and at that level. Many communities have kids that get by just fine with bare bones or no theatre/wood shop(yea I'm sure there's welding too) at a junior high level. $5.7 million dollars?????? My lord sounds like they need a complete budget overhaul with reality.

Mary Ellen Eads from Oak Park  

Posted: January 24th, 2011 9:56 AM

The proponents of this referendum are taking a predictable path. They want more money from taxpayers who are already stretched, in our case, by a two point state income tax increase, high existing property taxes, and other rising costs. Instead of making cuts across the board, they highlight certain programs and say they will have to end them completely if they don't get the money. This is ridiculous but people fall for it. I'm still wondering about the $277k for a self-sustaining program.


Posted: January 24th, 2011 7:10 AM

I have not objected to any ideas that I would regard as "sound," C.L. As to school funding, if you can show me some actual waste, I am all for removing such waste. But when we start putting substantive programs on the chopping block without knowing anything about their educationl value, indeed, not WANTING to know anything about their educational value, then I have to wonder where our priorities are, and whether we want to have an objective discussion about it.


Posted: January 23rd, 2011 9:17 PM

@DJ - you seem to want to justify every sound idea of Cutting Government spending (because it is too high) - and always coming up with a reason that it should not be done - like your response to Mary Ellen. WHY?


Posted: January 23rd, 2011 1:42 PM

chet21, I don't think the measure of a program's use is necessarily whether students do "just fine" without it. You could eliminate math and students would probably do "just fine" in English, History, Social Studies, etc. But math has an insrinsic value. Likewise, programs like theatre and foreign languages have instrinsic value and we should at least be reluctant to eliminate them.


Posted: January 23rd, 2011 1:33 PM

I get it Eads. U and others here can diss the theatre (and other) programs as being useless (but with nothing to actually support your thesis), and when an article is written that actually details the nature and benefits of the theatre programs, you object that is of no use in the discussion. Not a very objective approach is it?

Mary Ellen Eads from Oak Park  

Posted: January 21st, 2011 11:37 AM

This article reads like an advertisement for the program under discussion; thus, it is not helpful in the ongoing discussion over the referendum. However, if the program is self-sustaining as its proponents claim, what are we paying $277,400 for. Evidently, it is not self-sustaining. How, exactly, are these funds being used.

chet21 from Oak Park  

Posted: January 21st, 2011 11:14 AM

Keith, my youngest is now at OPRF and all first attended Julian and Irving. I'm VERY happy with their OP ed experience. I also know that the Spanish and m-c dept had nothing to do with their development. Factor in that the RF kids don't have these programs - and their kids do very well - and I'm perplexed why we need to have our taxes raised to pay for them? In the meantime, as Rahm said last week, "teachers are not underpaid." Return to 08/09 step table and "the children" will still excel!


Posted: January 21st, 2011 9:37 AM

Amen Sling Blade. Unions first, kids second. Sorry, is "amen" too religious and thereby uncivil expression for this board? Please replace "amen" with "yeppers".

Sling Blade from Oak Park  

Posted: January 21st, 2011 8:52 AM

Keith, please...stop with the old left wing canard about "the children"...whenever you hear "it's for the children", it really is code for "its for the union leadership" or "the bureaucracy"...give that nonsense a rest and start dealing with the real problem of misplaced spending priorities, and programs and deptartments with questionable (at best) educational value.


Posted: January 21st, 2011 7:40 AM

why, sir, would you vote against your children's, your future's education? WHY???

chet21 from Oak Park  

Posted: January 20th, 2011 9:34 AM

Said it before and I'll say it again: Bravo and Cast can be secure/flourish IF the board eliminates K-5 Spanish (RF doesn't have it - and their children seem to perform just fine at OPRF. Heck, they don't even have "smart boards!") and the multi-cultural dept. Next? We return to the 2008/2009 step table for faculty. Nothing draconian and 99% of the jobs are saved AND bk/stressed businesses and homeowners can survive. First, though, we must vote NO.

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